Brodsworth Hall, near Brodsworth, 5 miles (8.0 km) north-west of Doncaster in South Yorkshire, is one of the most complete surviving examples of a Victorian country house in England. It is virtually unchanged since the 1860s. It was designed in the Italianate style by the obscure London architect, Philip Wilkinson, then 26 years old. He was commissioned by Charles Sabine Augustus Thellusson, who inherited the estate in 1859. It is a Grade I listed building.
*** – History – ***
George Henry Hay, 8th Earl of Kinnoull, bought the Brodsworth estate from Sir John Wentworth in 1713 and rebuilt the house in the Georgian style, but lost his money in the South Sea Bubble crash of 1720 and was obliged to take the position of Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. His second son Robert, later Archbishop of York, took up residence on the estate instead and made a number of improvements to the house and grounds. On his death in 1777, the house was left empty, and, after his eldest son became the 10th Earl of Kinnoull in 1787, he sold the estate in 1790 to Peter Thellusson (1737–1797) of the Swiss banking family.
Peter Thellusson had come from Geneva and settled in England, becoming a director of the Bank of England and a tobacco and sugar importer. He wrote an unusual will, unsuccessfully challenged by his family in the Thellusson Will Case, whereby his fortune was put in trust to be untouched for three generations. One of the two eventual beneficiaries was his great-grandson Charles Sabine Augustus Thellusson; the other was the 5th Baron Rendlesham, who, in 1859, inherited half the bequest plus the Brodsworth estate with its Georgian house.
He demolished the existing house and commissioned the present one, which was built in two years between 1861 and 1863. A keen yachtsman, he also commissioned four yachts, the last two being, successively, the largest in the world. He was appointed High Sheriff of Yorkshire for 1866–1867. He and his wife Georgiana left four sons, all of whom died childless, and the house therefore passed to each son in turn.
The third son, Charles Thellusson, leased the mineral rights to the Brodsworth Colliery Company and also rented them the land for the construction of Woodlands model village to accommodate the miners. In addition he paid for the construction of All Saints Church (1913) for the village. He was also responsible for the introduction of electric light to the hall.
After the First World War, spiralling costs resulted in the owners closing off parts of the house. On the death of the youngest son, Augustus Thellusson, in 1931, the house passed to his nephew, Captain Charles Grant-Dalton (1882–1952). He was High Sheriff of Yorkshire for 1942–1943.
The last resident of the house was Sylvia Grant-Dalton (wife of Captain Grant-Dalton), who fought a losing battle for 57 years against leaking roofs on the mansion and land subsidence from nearby coal mining. After her death in 1988, Her daughter, Pamela Williams, gave the Hall and gardens to English Heritage in 1990. The contents of the house were purchased by the National Heritage Memorial Fund and transferred to the ownership of English Heritage. It was decided to conserve the interiors "as found" rather than replacing or restoring them. They demonstrate how a once opulent Victorian house grew "comfortably" old.
*** – The House – ***
Designed in the Italianate style by Philip Wilkinson, the Hall is constructed in ashlar limestone, some quarried on the estate, with lead and slate roofs. Stonework, windows and interior fittings were reused from the older building. The building is "T" shaped with the servants quarters forming the upright. The main block, forming the cross-bar, is 2-storey rectangular range having 9-bay frontage. The house has more than 30 rooms, ranging from grand reception rooms with original furnishings to the servants' quarters. The house is surrounded by Victorian period gardens, which are used for special events throughout the summer.
Bring your family and appreciate the grandeur of Victorian living. Built by the fabulously wealthy Charles Thellusson, Brodsworth Hall was the Thellusson family home for over 120 years. Designed in the Italianate style of the 1860s, the 'grand rooms' on the ground floor recall its Victorian heyday. Many of the original furnishings can still be seen - explore some of the highlights from the collection.
In the Billiard Room, perfectly preserved as a 'gentlemen's retreat', you can spot the mummified hooves of the 1855 Doncaster Cup winner. Don't miss the cavernous Victorian kitchen with its impressive cooking range and the cosier 'Aga kitchen' and scullery with the original housekeeper's chair.
*** – Gardens – ***
The gardens at Brodsworth Hall have been something of a sleeping beauty for the majority of the 20th century. English Heritage took over this mid-Victorian house and garden in 1990 by which time it had slid inexorably into decline. The original structure proved to be an ingenious use of space which worked with the landscape to make the garden feel much bigger than it is, so today visitors can walk through tunnels, over bridges and on the inter-connecting paths experiencing a series of visual surprises at every turn.
Historical research of the garden was helped by a considerable archive of accounts which not only give examples of individual costs - £3 16s for guano (manure) in June 1870 for example – but also show how the money spent on the garden rocketed from £169 18s in 1861 to £782 15s 2d two years later demonstrating the speed with which the garden was built. It is now regarded as one of the most remarkable Victorian gardens in the country, having gone from complete abandonment to Victorian showpiece in just a few years.
The years of neglect of Brodsworth Hall have had unexpected advantages. As the foliage became more dense it protected the bones of the mid-Victorian design beneath, leaving it largely intact allowing careful restoration of the gardens. But also the lack of mowing means that a rich bank of wildflowers, such as cowslips, orchids and wild thyme have been allowed to establish in the lawns, something not originally in the Victorian design but deeply appreciated by modern visitors.
The new house and garden were near to the site of old Brodsworth Hall, a mid-18th century house which had been the subject of a long-running legal wrangle over inheritance. Indeed it's thought that the labyrinthine case, of which old Brodsworth Hall formed a part, was the inspiration for Charles Dickens in his book 'Bleak House' where the protracted court case known as Jarndyce vs Jarndyce squanders both lives and money.
When Charles inherited he was presumably eager to put 60 years of legal dispute behind him. He set about creating a substantial new property whilst incorporating some features of the old garden and park such as a woodland known as the Grove, with serpentine paths threading through it and a magnificent cedar of Lebanon tree in the main lawn which date from this period.
By the time the new gardens had been laid out and planted in 1868 they consisted of formal gardens where the flowering displays were changed up to four times a year. There was a Grotto created from a redundant quarry planted with hundreds of ferns, a shrubbery richly planted with a wide variety of evergreens, an elevated summerhouse from which to view the gardens and a series of walks through ornamental woodland.
In recent years Brodsworth has also provided a place for a number of valuable plant collections, some dating back to Victorian times such as holly, and others introduced by English Heritage like roses, geraniums, ferns and alpine plants not to mention the thousands of snowdrops that appear each winter beneath the white marble statues.
Just beyond the formal parterres is a shrubbery containing a large number of handsome evergreens in a wide variety of different shades of green and gold. There are Portuguese and Japanese laurels, yew, box, Viburnum, bay and holly now all clipped into shape to provide an impressive living sculpture. Many of these are original specimens of the 1860s including the odd break in the evergreens provided by Japanese maples.
When the gardens were passed to English Heritage this area was an impenetrable thicket. But the tough evergreens responded well to fierce pruning and eventually came back into shape. Now the best place to appreciate it is from the classical summer house, built as a Doric temple, elevated upon the man-made Mount allowing you to look down upon the varying domes, obelisks and spirals. Near here is a recently planted collection of alpines from across the world, which enjoy the conditions created by the well-drained rock garden. Behind the summer house a path leads to the Pets' Cemetery where favourite family dogs and even a parrot are buried.
Ferns were highly popular in the Victorian era and this fascinating garden makes full use of the height and the shade created by the quarry walls. Even at the height of Brodworth's neglect, many plants such as the strappy hart's tongue fern thrived in the damp crevices. In 2000 the Grotto was identified as an ideal place to re-home an important fern collection owned by Wing Commander Eric Baker and you can now see over 100 different types of fern here.
Through a tunnel beneath a path in the Grotto you come to the Target Range which was once used for archery, a highly fashionable sport in the 19th century especially for young ladies. The long grassed lawn ends in the Target House which was used for storing equipment but now houses an exhibition about the garden. It is thought to date from the 18th century but was turned by Thellusson into something resembling a Swiss chalet where the family would take tea.
It's designed symmetrically as if it was a leaf, the paths representing the veins. The beds have been densely planted with over 100 different types of old roses in cultivation before 1900, famed for their scent and beauty, such as 'Fantin-Latour', 'Queen of Bourbons' and 'Madame Knorr'. Throughout the summer it is rich in the complex scents of the roses and in autumn the stems hang with bright red hips. Along one flank of the Rose Garden is a long, crescent-shaped herbaceous border divided into nine sections by yew and planted with perennials. This was laid out in about 1920 after some dog kennels were relocated leaving an open space and views over the farm, which the family wanted to disguise. When it was restored in 2006 it was decided to only use plants available in Britain prior to Queen Victoria's death in 1901. From late spring to late autumn you can see peonies, lupins, Agapanthus, Achillea, geraniums and Rudbeckia flowering in sequence with the entire border being maintained by the garden volunteers.
Next to it, and a recent addition, is the Rose Dell created after about three-quarters of an acre of self-sown trees and dense ivy were cleared in the winter of 2004. New trees were planted such as copper beech, hornbeam and oaks and underplanted with a wide variety of species rose including Rosa moysii, R. gallica and R. primula all of which thrive in the thin soil.
*** – Visiting – ***
Take a unique guided tour around the house which has been preserved exactly as the last resident, Sylvia Grant-Dalton, left it in 1988. The house appears as Sylvia used it, making do and mending as her funds and servants dwindled. Whilst some rooms have kept a sense of grandeur, elsewhere the hard years of gentle decline are apparent.
The library's original wallpaper and carpets are faded, and Charles Thellusson's woodworking room is full of the family's clutter. Look out for a Second World War baby's 'cradle gas mask', and a rare stuffed specimen of an American 'passenger pigeon'.
After an afternoon exploring head over to the tearoom and terrace. The tearoom serves a delicious selection of high quality Yorkshire food using the best local, fresh ingredients. They also have a children's selection. In fine weather, you can enjoy the tranquillity of the hall from the outdoor seating on the Tea Terrace. You are also welcome to bring a picnic to enjoy in the gardens.
In the garden wind your way through the colourful formal flower beds to get a great view from the summerhouse. Trip-trap over and under the bridges of the fern dell, sniff your way through the wild rose dell, and be sure to have a peek at the historic outdoor loo! Enjoy family activities during the school holidays, live brass bands on summer Sundays and a year-round programme of events. And don't forget your blanket for a picnic on the lawn.
Free car park. Disabled drivers can park near the hall entrance; disabled passengers can be set down near the hall entrance. Gravel car park 250 metres from the main entrance, plus an overflow car park in a nearby field. Capacity for approx. 300 vehicles. Please note there is no parking available up at the hall on Event Days.
There is a shop selling a wide range of heritage-themed gifts, including books and gardening items. Male and female toilets are located in a separate toilet block 50 metres from the hall. Disabled toilets are located in the adapted toilet block 50 metres from the hall. Unfortunately dogs are not allowed on site. Assistance dogs are welcome.
All the ground floor is level and there is lift access to the first-floor family bedrooms (but visitors need to negotiate steps to reach the servants’ bedrooms). The original Victorian lift makes the first floor accessible, but can only take one wheelchair at a time due to weight restrictions. The terrace and formal gardens are accessed on tarmac paths, but the Quarry gardens have self-binding gravel paths. Manual wheelchair users are advised to bring an assistant. Level access to the exhibition. Shop and tearoom with ramped access.
Please note. Do not rely on SatNav. Follow the brown signs from Brodsworth.
Location : Brodsworth Hall, Brodsworth, Doncaster, South Yorkshire DN5 7XJ
Transport: South Elmsall (National Rail) 4 miles OR Doncaster (National Rail) 203 bus 5.5 miles. Bus Routes : Tates Travel service 203 stops close by.
Opening Times : Click here for full opening times.
Tickets House: Adults: £11.80; Concessions: £10.60; Children (5 - 17): £7.10
Tickets Winter (Gardens Only): Adults: £8.30; Concessions: £7.50; Children (5 - 17): £5.00
Tel: 01302 722598